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Journal Article


Smyth B. J. Humanist. Psychol. 2018; 58(5): 479-500.


(Copyright © 2018, SAGE Publishing)






This article contributes to the conceptual clarification of "heroism" as the central idea of "heroism science," by outlining an approach to heroic action, in its distinction from "moral saintliness," based in a phenomenological account of embodied existence. I first address the paradoxical tension obtaining between the "exceptionalization" of heroism and what has been termed its "banality." Through a discussion of moral supererogation, this points toward a conception of heroic action that excludes self-sacrifice. With reference to examples of "Holocaust rescuers," I develop a view of heroic action as reflecting a prepersonal practical necessity, an anonymous incapacity to do otherwise. I then substantiate this view with considerations drawn from the phenomenology of embodied existence, relying in particular on the distinction drawn by Merleau-Ponty between the "actual" and "habitual" dimensions of embodiment. On this basis, I sketch out how heroic and saintly action can be understood as contrary ways in which the tension between these dimensions of embodiment is resolved. This approach affords conceptually clear notions of heroism, moral saintliness, and the distinction between them, and on this basis, it portends the sort of coherent and viable understanding of heroism's "banality" that heroism science requires. By way of conclusion, I briefly address some of the theoretical advantages of this approach, along with some of the larger stakes involved.

Language: en


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